"Why are you not happy, Herr Benito? We have a half day off." The new butcher's helper, Hans Knefler, glanced over at the man he'd been assigned to work with out of the corner of his eye as they walked home from work. Benito never looked particularly happy to Hans.
"Kid, if we didn't work in a grocery store, it would be a full day off. You know all about Thanksgiving, right? The Pilgrims, the New World, the Indians, yadda yadda. Big deal! Back up-time, we used to call it Turkey Day. Almost every family cooked one. Shoot, I knew a family of vegetarians and even they cooked a turkey. On Thanksgiving we ate turkey and watched the Macy's Parade on TV. And then we could watch football. All day. I loved it."
"They all had Spanish turkey?"
Benito snorted. "Not at these prices. Back then we had big farms that raised thousands of them and shipped them out dressed and frozen. Benito paused for a moment. "Man alive, I miss home. Really I do."
Hans asked, "Are you having turkey?"
"What do you think I am? Rich?" Benito countered. "The price is ridiculous. They're imported from Spain. Only reason Spain has them is because someone brought them back from Mexico. Maggie O'Reilly had some young toms she sold us at the Spanish import price—and I mean to tell you she was smiling when she did it, too.
"We used to sell it retail at a dollar, dollar ten per dressed pound. If nothing happens to her layers, Maggie will die rich because she let her little girl breed turkeys for a 4H project. I hear a lot of people went hunting this week, but I don't think there were all that many wild turkeys to begin with."
Hans was thinking Benito was whining rather a lot for someone who had such a good job and nice house. But then Benito snorted a half laugh.
"No, kid, we're having goose and dressing. Goose is fine. I can't afford turkey. I won't pay that kind of money for one and I probably won't live long enough for the price to come down."
Benito knew he was feeling sorry for himself. Heck, he was probably wallowing in self-pity, come to think of it. On the other hand, though, he certainly hadn't asked to get stuck here. Everything was different, seemed like. Food, clothes, prices. Walking all over the darned place. He missed his car. He missed the food he was used to. And he missed the old Thanksgiving celebrations.
Until someone started importing corn, Benito's wife made a white bread dressing when she baked fowl. Benito hated it. Now she bought dried corn and ran it through the blender to get meal. Which didn't make a lot of sense to Benito, since there were millers all over the place. The fact was, she'd asked for corn thinking she was getting corn meal from the bulk counter at the store. It never crossed her mind that someone might want whole corn to make hominy so she didn't say corn meal or corn flour, as the down-timers were calling it. She was too embarrassed to take it back. Now she liked the finer meal she got out of her blender better than what the store sold. They only had cornbread on special occasions, even though it was getting cheaper now that they could import dried corn from Italy.
He missed cranberry sauce, the jellied kind, from a can. They'd only had it on Thanksgiving. He really didn't like it all that much. Most of it was thrown out every year but it just wasn't Thanksgiving dinner without it. Cranberries were just one of the many things that would never again be the way they should be.
Here he was—past retirement age and then some—working full-time and then some. It certainly wasn't what he'd expected to be doing when he was sixty-six—darn near sixty-seven.
In the first year after the Ring of Fire, when everyone was scrambling to get through the winter, he pitched in like everybody else. The government tapped an experienced meat man, Mark Burroughs, to run part of the food supply project. Someone had to cover the meat counter at Johnson's grocery store. So Benito went to work for the interim while Mark was on a short term-leave. That was over three years ago. With Mark being part owner in "Ice and Slaughter," along with being the government meat, health and safety inspector, there was no way he was ever coming back from the leave of absence. The job was Benito's for as long as he wanted it. Without a social security check, he needed the income. Which was another thing that he missed, for sure. No check. Had to get a job. No wonder that old bat, Veda Mae Haggerty was so bitter. She was in the same boat.
"I'm lucky Mark ain't ever coming back," Benito mumbled. A meat counter was about all the physical labor he wanted to handle these days. Besides, without cable TV what would he do with himself, anyway?
"What did you say, Mister Genucci?" Hans asked.
"Oh, sorry, kid. I was just thinking about how things used to be."
"It really must have been something, living up-time I mean."
"Well, yes and no. It's kind of odd. The big difference in the job, other than the prices, is the return to paper wrapping. Cellophane and Styrofoam are gone. All the fresh meat stays iced down in the glass-front butcher's counter until it gets wrapped in paper and sent out the door."
Benito continued chatting away. "Of course, there were things you can't get at all any more, like lobster, king crab, and shrimp. And there's a long list of things you can only get once in a while. Take veal. When we have it, it's real veal. Someone's cow drops a still-born calf and the meat inspector passes it. It's not some box-raised milk-fed yearling steer, like veal used to be.
"We still get mostly beef and pork, always did. What's weird is that some of the pork is wild boar. About the only thing that hasn't been in our meat counter is dog and cat. Though, I wonder if a couple of the rabbits we sold weren't off of someone's roof, to tell the truth. We even sold squirrels once or twice.
"The quality is what it is. It isn't like you can call the supplier and raise a fuss. Hell, we should be thankful we got a supplier," Benito said. "Shoot, for that matter we should be thankful to be alive and I should be happy to have a job instead of griping about having to work."